August 24, 2015

NOTES FROM U.N.C.L.E.

I joined a large group of fellow fans, writers, and artists last weekend in Los Angeles to celebrate the release of the new Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, as well as to share our love and enthusiasm for the original series from the 1960s. Mission HQ was established at the famed Creature Features shop in Burbank, where we were treated to a display of TV props and memorabilia, book signings by Jon Burlingame and Cynthia Walker, and a live commentary of The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. by special effect and props maestro Robert Short (Beetljuice, ET, Splash, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.). Tanner of the Double O Section and I arrived mid-commentary and were immediately drawn into Bob's fascinating insights from his experiences on set for The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1983). Because of his tireless devotion to detail and to maintaining continuity with some of the original show's designs and conventions, we learned that a number of vintage-style U.N.C.L.E. elements were shot, although many of them were left on the cutting-room floor by the editor (including iconic references to the U.N.C.L.E. gun and headquarters). I also heard an interesting story about how the script called for a character to be wearing a long multi-colored scarf in reference to Tom Baker's popular Doctor Who at the time. My own film students can attest that one has to often compromise because of time and availability, and indeed the costume department only had a small silk neckerchief when cameras were scheduled to roll. Hilarious! Bob also had interesting stories about visiting sets regularly as a young man and getting a first-hand look into the making of shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Star Trek, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, and The Wild Wild West. The display, which he set up with Danny Biederman, Barry Koper, and others, included enlargements of many of his own color photographs snapped on the U.N.C.L.E. set in the 1960s. Like many fans, I never thought I'd have an opportunity to handle original show props. Spy Vibers can imagine the thrill of getting to hold a number of original U.N.C.L.E. and THRUSH guns and communicators. Beyond the simple nostalgia, it was also a thrill to note the exceptional craftsmanship of these artifacts. See below for my review of the new Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie by Guy Ritchie. Images below: my photographs of original props, costumes, memorabilia. Portrait of me by Robert Short.














On Friday night we all went to an IMAX screening of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie by Guy Ritchie and what a fun delight it was! So many films based on 1960s shows have been modern contrivances that held no connections to the source material (Wild Wild West, I Spy, The Avengers, etc). Ritchie made a wise choice early on to set his U.N.C.L.E. story in the world of the Cold War and the early 1960s. Although some fans were bothered by the film's omission of many of the symbolic elements and rituals of the original show- as well as a personality makeover for Ilya K (no spoilers here)- the overall retro vibe of the movie was really successful and fun. Many scenes were shot with a vintage image quality and, except for one modern-style chase sequence, the action was thankfully understated (sometimes silent!) and without that bombastic barrage of jarring sound fx that is so prevalent. Thank you! The soundtrack was very groovy and did a great job bringing a jet-setting (and sometimes spaghetti western) vibe to the experience. The CD has been sold out at Amazon for over a week, so hopefully that means ancillary sales are high (hey, we want a sequel!). I don't think I've seen this kind of love-letter to 1960s cool since the Oceans series by Steven Soderbergh (he was signed to make this U.N.C.L.E. movie for a while). It was clearly a labor of joy and affection for filmmaking. Spy Vibers will love the attention to detail from the production designers who recreated 1960s East and West Berlin, Rome, and other locations of international mystery. The costumes were equally stunning and never went too over the top. With so many far out designs known from the era, it would have been easy to take things too far and approach parody. Perhaps that balance was the central theme to my enjoyment of the film- fun and restraint. Maybe my only quibble design-wise was about the references to Paco Rabanne, who I believe was still making jewelry during the period of the film and hadn't yet blasted off into his celebrated solo work from later in the decade. I had been worried by the trailer and print ads, which seemed to suggest the film was all actors standing around posing like a contrived magazine spread. I needn't have worried, and I felt in good hands with everyone's performance. Hugh Grant was great as Mr. Waverly. He is one of my favorite actors (About a Boy is one of his best), and I often felt he could have played a great spy, like Patrick McGoohan, who can be charming in his cover but observant and calculating from the corner of his eye. Alicia Vikander was quite good as Gaby, though I felt the script had some trouble defining her character in terms of her agency under pressure (was she independent and capable or in need of rescue?). I also didn't quite buy the love interest angle, again a problem with the script. Without going into details, the plot raced along well and used some familiar tropes from the old days of Cold War spy adventures. Long-time fans will spot references to Connery's era of Bond and to Michael Caine's Ipcress File. I think Spy Vibers will love it! Our group followed up on Saturday night with a triple-feature screening of 1960s U.N.C.L.E. movies at Quentin Tarantino's theater. It was especially thrilling to see them projected from film prints on the big screen! You can love digital remastering all you want, but nothing compares to the natural surface quality and color of film. The presentation, which also included correct screen framing and aspect ratios, looked absolutely fantastic. Even The Karate Killers, which was shown on a reddish 16mm print, was a blast to see. As I watched, I thought back over the new movie and how it compared to the old series. I kept seeing little moments and subtle elements in the old films that were clearly tapped by Guy Ritchie to create his new iteration. Yes, maybe there were some iconic things fans will miss in the 2015 version, but I could see the heart of the show, or at least most of it, preserved in Ritchie's vision. Even the choice to redefine the original characters didn't, in my view, derail the experience. After all the disappointment we have suffered as fans through the many disastrous&nbsp remakes that tried to cash in on the 1960s, it was a joy to finally see quality and some respect for the source up there on the screen. Go see it and tell me what you think!


Selected Spy Vibe posts: Honor Blackman at 90, UNCLE SchoolIan Fleming MemorialRadiophonic ExhibitPortmeirion PhotosDoctor Who ExhibitFarewell SteedPussy Galore ReturnsDiana Rigg birthdaySherlock at 221BInvisible AgentSaint Interview: Ian DickersonSaint DoppelgängerFleming's TypewriterRare FlemingFleming's MusicIan Fleming's JapanJim Wilson Corgi InterviewFantomas DesignJeremy Duns on BondJohn Buss interviewAvengers Season 5 TitlesSaint VolvoMod Tales InterviewAgente Secreto ComicsDanger Man Comics 2Danger Man ComicsJohn Drake ComicsDer Mann Von UNCLEGolden Margaret NolanMan From UNCLE RocksteadyPussy Galore Calypso, Cynthia Lennon R.I.P.Edward Mann FashionLeonard Nimoy TributeShatner at 84Bob Morane seriesThai Bond DesignBond vs ModernismArt of ModestyTokyo Beat 1964Feraud Mod FashionGreen Hornet MangaNo 6 FestivalAvengers Interview: Michael RichardsonIan Fleming: Wicked GrinJane Bond Hong Kong RecordsRyan Heshka Interview, Comics Week: Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.Comics Week: ArchieComics Week: Robots, Comics Week: Cold War Atomic, Comics Week: SPYMANComics Week: Jimmy Olsen, Shakespeare Spies: Diana RiggShakespeare Spies I, Rodney Marshall Avengers Interview, Richard Sala: Super-Enigmatix, Cold War Archie, Playboy Bunny InterviewThe 10th Victim Japanese and KindleU.N.C.L.E. Japanese Books, Trina Robbins InterviewCatsuits, Batman '66 Green Hornet Interview: Ralph Garman Ty Templeton.

4 comments:

  1. But... but... Tom Baker didn't take over as the Doctor till 1974, long after the Man From UNCLE had stopped.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the new film, though like you had trouble taking the love interest bit seriously.

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  2. that story was commentary during The Return of the Man From UNCLE, made in 1983 :)

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  3. I caught the triple feature at the New Beverly as well. What a blast! One thing I loved was seeing the Griffith Observatory and Bronson Canyon used as locations. I take my son to both places regularly. Man, I wanted one of those Uncle magazines.

    James Chatterton

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  4. Can only agrre with all Jason said above . My little contribution .
    To all the Skeptics i say GO AND SEE THE MOVIE . The easy to follow plot makes it great (no need for complicated movies) and brings you back to the lighter 1960s (euro)spy movies and tv shows . Just enjoyed the Italian scenery, the cars, the boats, the scooters, the baddies , the goodies , the style, the opening and closing credits , the soundtrack .... . A great 2015 movie looking back at the 1960s tv show . Movie and soundtrack 9.5 / 10 .

    ReplyDelete

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